City DopeNews

Senior Condos Will Help Fund Downtown Athens Arena

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The Classic Center is close to finalizing plans for an 80-unit condominium building for seniors as part of a complicated strategy to help fund its new arena.

The convention center received only about half of the SPLOST funding—$34 million—that it requested last year, well shy of the $82 million price tag for the 6,000-seat arena. So the Classic Center is using long-term leases for the senior building and a hotel on ACC property and future revenue from a new parking deck to fill the gap.

The condos will be located on East Broad Street near the railroad tracks, next to the Georgia Traditions building, and “will really diversify the folks living here,” Classic Center Executive Director Paul Cramer told the Athens Downtown Development Authority last week. The Classic Center needs the ADDA to serve as a pass-through to lease the land to the developer, likely the Watkinsville-based Dolvin Foundation.

Future plans include a hotel on the sliver of land between the Classic Center and One Press Place, and a parking deck located east of the Multimodal Transportation Center, across Hickory Street. The arena will be built behind the Multimodal Center and the Foundry Street Warehouses. Also last week, the ACC Commission approved a deal to buy air rights over the railroad to connect the arena to the Classic Center and the rest of downtown.

The ADDA board also discussed potentially closing the short block of Newton Street between Prince Avenue and Meigs Street to vehicles in order to turn it into an outdoor dining area for nearby restaurants. With people driving less and restaurants’ indoor seating capacity limited during the pandemic, many cities worldwide have been converting streets and parking lots into public gathering spaces. The ACC Commission recently approved such a change on College Square.

Jessica Greene, owner of The Grit, requested the change, and Taziki’s owner Whit Richardson also supports it, according to ADDA Director of Planning and Outreach David Lynn. When the proposal was first introduced in 2015, Bottleworks owner Parkside Partners opposed it over concerns about limiting access to the development’s parking lot, but Lynn noted that drivers could still access it via Meigs. 

As a public space, the outdoor cafe area would be open to any restaurant, not just The Grit and Taziki’s, Mayor Kelly Girtz said.

Similarly, board member Drew Dekle asked Girtz if the county could ease open container laws so people could carry drinks from Flicker Theater and Bar to the courtyard next door. (Dekle owns both properties.) “It’s in the pipeline,” Girtz said. He added that he’s received similar requests, such as The National wanting to use a nearby parking lot for seating, which would require servers to carry drinks on the sidewalk.

In addition, the ADDA is creating a new gift card program for downtown businesses. The Downtown Athens Business Association already sells gift certificates, but Lynn said the advantages of debit cards are that they work with existing point-of-sale systems, and businesses get the money immediately instead of having to redeem certificates. “It promotes consumer confidence and helps get people back out,” he said.

The board also approved a drastically reduced 2021 budget—$419,000, as opposed to $706,000 for the fiscal year 2020. Much of the reduction is from parking revenue, which is expected to fall off due to the economic downtown and loss of parking on College Square. But it may not fall as much as anticipated. ADDA Director of Business Services Linda Ford said she budgeted $50,000 a month in parking revenue—the ADDA gets a 20% management fee—but that parking brought in $190,000 in June. “We designed [the budget] as conservative as possible,” she said.

$75,000 is earmarked for downtown events like the Hot Corner, PRIDE and Latinx festivals, but those remain in doubt, depending on how long the pandemic lasts. “I don’t mean to be cynical, but I don’t know how many, if any, of these events will move forward in FY21,” Lynn said.